Schools 2010: Learning and Leadership in Las Vegas Amid the lights and glitz of the Las Vegas strip where the July temperatures hit 110 degrees, more than 1,200 school-based speech-language pathologists and educational audiologists stayed cool at the Mirage Hotel as they attended ASHA’s Schools 2010 conference. Participants spent three action-packed days learning how to create innovative programs, ... ASHA News
ASHA News  |   September 01, 2010
Schools 2010: Learning and Leadership in Las Vegas
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor of The ASHA Leader , can be reached at
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor of The ASHA Leader , can be reached at×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / ASHA News
ASHA News   |   September 01, 2010
Schools 2010: Learning and Leadership in Las Vegas
The ASHA Leader, September 2010, Vol. 15, 10-27. doi:10.1044/leader.AN1.15112010.10
The ASHA Leader, September 2010, Vol. 15, 10-27. doi:10.1044/leader.AN1.15112010.10

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Amid the lights and glitz of the Las Vegas strip where the July temperatures hit 110 degrees, more than 1,200 school-based speech-language pathologists and educational audiologists stayed cool at the Mirage Hotel as they attended ASHA’s Schools 2010 conference. Participants spent three action-packed days learning how to create innovative programs, encourage momentum within their school districts, and, best of all, find ways to harness what they learned and bring it back to their students.
This year’s conference—the 11th—set a record for attendance. Held July 16–18, the three-day event included 26 sessions based on clinical and service-delivery issues, 50 poster sessions, four regional discussions, 59 exhibitors, and two plenary sessions.
During the opening session the Roles and Responsibilities Committee unveiled two new policy documents on the roles and responsibilities of SLPs in schools. The committee also facilitated a discussion at one of the regional discussion groups and held a poster session (view the professional issues statement and the position statement on ASHA’s website).
The schools conference was offered in conjunction with the Educational Audiology Association, which held its summer workshop on July 15 at the Mirage. Participants from both conferences also joined in six-minute networking meetings, attended exhibitor education sessions, and took part in a wine tasting sponsored by the ASHA Political Action Committee (ASHA-PAC). As the bustle on the strip outside heated up, attendees learned why, this time, what happened in Vegas really shouldn’t stay in Vegas.
Speakers and Sessions
The conference showcased many talented and engaging presenters. The opening plenary featured Marcia Harding, director of the Special Education Division of the Arkansas Department of Education and president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Harding encouraged SLPs to recognize and seize emerging opportunities throughout their careers.
Harding detailed her professional journey, emphasizing that her success was a result of not being afraid to take chances. “When I’m looking to hire someone, I look for energy and passion,” she said. “I want someone who is willing to take risks and accept consequences. Because if you’re working in your comfort zone, you’re probably not working to your potential.”
Other popular sessions included an overview of neurotoxicants and their relation to learning disabilities presented by Laura Abulafia, director of education and outreach for the Environmental Health Initiative of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and national coordinator for the Learning and Developmental Disability Initiative. Abulafia described the growing relationship between the rising levels of chemicals in homes and schools and the increasing rates of developmental disabilities in the United States. According to information provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, children—with their smaller bodies and higher metabolic rates—are more vulnerable to the toxinsin their environments. This risk, paired with the 2,000 to 3,000 new chemicals [PDF] introduced by industry each year, suggests that children who have physical, communication, and neurological disorders are often at high risk.
“These children often have increased hand-to-mouth activity and are always on the floor,” Abulafia explained. “In addition, they can’t always tell someone if they are ill or have been exposed, compounding the problem. The parents have to be the voice of their children, which highlights why parent-teacher communication is so important.”
Autism Spectrum Disorders
In other sessions, attendees learned how to provide culturally responsive services and assessments for children with autism spectrum disorders. Tina Taylor Dyches, an associate professor at Brigham Young University (BYU) and the Autism Society of America’s 2010 “autism professional of the year,” explained how cultural differences can make assessing and treating children on the autism spectrum particularly challenging. Treatments that target increasing eye contact, for example, may be difficult or even ill-advised if the child comes from a culture in which looking an authority figure in the eye is considered disrespectful. Her advice included not only using culturally responsive assessment strategies, but also making every effort to get to know the child’s family members and understand what is important to them.
“We cover a lot of ground with children on the spectrum and it’s important to realize that some families are more focused on academics, for example, while for others social skills are a bigger priority,” Dyches said. “But you have to ask the questions.” To facilitate communication with families whose first language is not English, Dyches’ team at BYU has developed a checklist[PDF] in English and Spanish for families with recently diagnosed children.
In another very popular session, attendees learned how taking the time to implement an effective response-to-intervention (RTI) program can help identify children who need additional services as well as keep other children from receiving unnecessary special education placements. Presenters Judy Rudebusch, director for special services in Irving, Texas, and JoAnn Wiechmann, a school-based SLP in Texas, explained to attendees that four essential components are crucial to RTI success:
  • A basic set of beliefs about teaching and learning

  • A multi-tiered model of school support that matches instruction to students’ needs

  • Procedures for data-driven decisions

  • A team-oriented problem-solving process

With these components in place, they said, educators and SLPs have time to provide students with timely interventions, avoiding the “wait to fail” approach.
“My favorite belief is that all children can learn,” Rudebusch said. “We’ve seen it for decades but this is the difference—the load is not on the child who is assumed to be internally broken. The load is on the adult to reach that child.”
Other session topics included social groups for augmentative and alternative communication users; evidence-based assessment and treatment of narrative abilities; evaluating and enhancing children’s phonological systems; and universal design for learning. All gave participants new ideas and strategies for the upcoming school year.
Outside the Sessions
Beyond the daily sessions, attendees also broke out into regional discussion groups to delve into region-specific issues. In the Northeast group, for example, discussion focused on advocating for funding. Patti Bellini of Central Falls, R.I., and chair of the Schools Finance Committee, told members that securing funding often comes down to knowing what questions to ask and what sources create income streams for school districts.
“It’s always good to know what’s going on at the state level and to know the budget person or the person who writes grants,” Bellini told the group. “You don’t have to be a financial expert.”
Other after-session activities included the inaugural Schools Conference ASHA-PAC wine-tasting reception. PAC members gathered for an evening of fine wines and fun, all while helping to support ASHA’s advocacy efforts in the U.S. Congress. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) attended a special ASHA-PAC reception with Nevada-based members. Titus represents Nevada’s third congressional district and is a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, which holds significant legislative jurisdiction over education policies affecting speech-language pathology and audiology.
In keeping with the Vegas theme, the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation held a “Royal Flush Raffle.” Raffle winners received two tickets to see Cirque de Soleil’s LOVE at the Mirage; in addition, all raffle entrants were entered to win the Phenomenal Philly grand prize for VIP treatment at the 2010 ASHA Convention in November. In the evening, convention attendees were able to enjoy the excitement of this desert city built for entertainment—if the people-watching wasn’t enough, shows, casinos, spas, and restaurants of every description were there to enjoy.
As ASHA Schools 2010 drew to a close, plenary speakers Julie Masterson, professor at Missouri State University, and Kenn Apel, professor at Florida State University, encouraged attendees to embrace what they had learned during conference sessions and take their new skills back to their districts. By recognizing their new knowledge and giving it credit, Masterson said, participants could move out of their comfort zones and initiate transformational changes within their work settings.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk about the need for schools to be transformed to meet the needs of students,” she said. “We hope that speech-language pathologists will view this as positive, embrace the ‘disequilibrium,’ and work to encourage radical growth in their work settings.”
Survey: Recession Affects Salaries, caseload

A month before the 2010 Schools Conference, pre-registered participants received a web-based survey designed to determine how the current economy is affecting ASHA’s school-based members. A total of 347 members completed the survey and, based on the responses, the biggest impact of the economy was not at the personal level, but at the district level:

  • 62% of respondents reported that their districts were planning to reduce spending by “a lot,” up from 56% in 2009.

  • 21% reported a reduction in salary or benefits with no change in hours, up from 11% in 2009.

  • 38% reported an increase in caseload size, up from 35% in 2009.

  • 18% reported an increase in number of sites visited, up from 13% in 2009.

Arlene Pietranton, ASHA executive director, held a member forum to discuss the results with conference attendees. Many members agreed with the results and made suggestions on how ASHA could help school-based members. One member commented, “With the increased number of ‘protected times’ within the schools it is getting more difficult to do the traditional pull-out therapy,” and said that she is encouraging her staff to look for new or different approaches to intervention.

All results from this survey [PDF] are available at ASHA’s website.

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September 2010
Volume 15, Issue 11